More than half of U.S. women say it is important their skin care products are all natural. The exact meaning of “natural” remains unclear. What does it mean to be natural? How does this compare to being organic?
Natural is the least regulated and defined term, while organic has strict criteria that need to be satisfied to be certified organic. Natural ingredients are those that are derived from natural sources (plants, soil, animals) with minimal processing and without the addition of synthetic compounds.
An ingredient can be labeled as organic if it is produced according to specific standards set by the USDA. Organic ingredients are produced without the use of synthetic additives such as pesticides, fertilizers, or dyes. Similar to organic foods, a cosmetic can be labeled as “organic” based on the percentage of organic ingredients used. We use certified organic ingredients as often as we can.
A synthetic ingredient is one that is manufactured or modified using chemical reactions, e.g., salt dissolves in water. When manufactured properly, a synthetic ingredient can be just as safe, more effective, stable, and eco-friendly than its naturally-derived equivalents. Synthetic ingredients can have the upper hand when it comes to sustainability: no animal products or byproducts are needed to produce them.
Cleopatra bathed in sour milk to exfoliate her skin and keep it smooth. Today we know that is was the lactic acid in her sour milk that stimulated exfoliation. These days we can synthesize a more potent form of lactic acid which is much more efficient and environmentally responsible than bathing in milk.
Stabilizers, preservatives, and emulsifiers must be included in most formulas to keep them safe and to have a lasting shelf life. Sometimes these ingredients are not considered organic or natural; however, that does not make them less safe.
The word fragrance has been a hot topic for a while, and with the changes in INCI laws over the past few years, it has become harder to tell which products contain natural or unnatural fragrances. INCI provides an international standard that all formulators need to uphold. The word fragrance now covers essential oils and perfumes, so you have to trust in the brand or review the other ingredients to determine if the entire formula is trustworthy.
Each product line works with a lab unless they have their own. In my opinion, choosing a lab is the most important step in the process. In 2003, I began BellaPelle Skin Care, on which the S4 Skincare line is based. We feel lucky to have come across a like-minded group of chemists and team to assist in the development of our products. Over the years we had to go against the tide to stay anchored on the path of using cruelty-free, natural, and organic ingredients. We were one of the first to sign the EWG’s Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Compact and rallied against animal cruelty. To this day, our lab stays true to their mission of providing us with the highest quality ingredients, sourced from reputable farms and suppliers. It is only in the last couple of years that these issues have become mainstream. We’re thankful that these trends have caught on and that many animals may be spared from unnecessary testing in the future and now we have healthier skincare options.
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